This is my first healthy eating post on this blog. I originally started writing about our latest personal experiences with “wheat belly”, but this took a different turn while writing it and I just ran with the new direction. It’s not a well written post as it’s hastily thrown together, but these aren’t all going to be Dickens-esque.
Healthy lifestyle choices for myself and my family are a very high priority , and despite our best intentions are often time difficult to implement in practice. Our basic premise is natural, “real”, high nutritional density foods, including food that had a mother and father (MEAT!!). People will throw around words like “Primal” or “Paleo” and while we don’t necessarily prescribe to either philosophy per se, they’re pretty close to what we’re going for. Basically, we try not to eat processed foods, don’t eat bread, flour, sugar, cereals or pasta, and basically keep it simple, like basically shopping entirely on the outside edges of the supermarket. We still eat dairy, but mostly our refrigerator and pantry has a lot of this: fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, whole milk, coconut oil, eggs. We don’t focus right now on calories, fat, carbs or protein and just eating like this we’ve maintained our weight under vigorous exercise training loads while getting stronger at the same time. This diet works for Holly and I and along with intermittent fasting (I’ll have to do a post on this some time) we feel very good for once as long as we continue to eat like this. Going away from this has not left happy feelings in our bowels.
Feeding children on this diet is sometimes a challenge as kids will be kids and tend to be in generally pickier eaters despite our best intentions. Holly or I make them breakfast, a homemade lunch box school and dinner every day with the exception of the occasional take-out food/kids birthday party. Of the 21 meals during a “regular” week, the kids are probably eating homemade maybe 18-20 of the meals. However, they still get semi-frequent snacks and treats from parades, halloween, grandparents, parties, festivals, the zoo and those inherent to most extra-curricular activities. We’re not super strict, but are raising their awareness of what we consider a proper diet.
Considering how fast our children are becoming unhealthy, I’m not going to let the USDA and the Standard American Diet (SAD) dictate what’s “best” for my children in terms of diet. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) :
- One out of three children or adolescents are overweight or obese
- Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years
- Likely to be obese adults, and therefore have adult health issues
- Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Healthy food in developing children have even been linked to higher IQs. From Science Daily:
We found that children who were breastfed at six months and had a healthy diet regularly including foods such as legumes, cheese, fruit and vegetables at 15 and 24 months, had an IQ up to two points higher by age eight.
“Those children who had a diet regularly involving biscuits, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and chips in the first two years of life had IQs up to two points lower by age eight.
Alternatively, poor diets in children have been linked eightfold increase in asthma, poor behavior in autism spectrum children (alternatively, a cassein and gluten free diet has shown in some studies that it can minimize or remove symptoms), and obviously increased body mass indexes leading to a higher likelihood of adult onset diabetes.
For us, breakfast is really usually a hodgepodge of stuff because our kids are not fan of eggs (my favorite breakfast food). Usually whole milk is on the menu along with a fruit of some sort and nut butter or some other fat/protein mix like bacon.
Dinner is usually as simple as a big hunk of meat (think chicken, grass fed chuck roast, fish or meatloaf) and veggies of some sort. If it’s leaner meat we’ll cut up an avocado to add some fat. We’ll usually make an extra half to full amount for Holly and I to take for lunch the next day.
Here’s USDA’s current recommendation for how we should eat, and school lunches must follow this as well:
Thanks USDA for those excellent guidelines! I’m sure the school’s interpretations of these guidelines are providing healthy and nutritious lunches for those busy families who don’t have the time or money (lunches are heavily subsidized with government money so children don’t go hungry) to pack a homemade one. Here’s an example week of lunches in our last school district:
Monday: chicken strips, fiesta veggies, fruit cocktail, whole wheat roll
Tuesday: mac and cheese, soft pretzel, brocolli spears, fresh fruit
Wednesday: Walking taco with refried beans, corn, fruit cocktail, fruit churros
Thursday: hotdog and bun, steamed veggies, fresh fruit, ice cream cup
Friday: cheese dippers with marinar sauce, hash brown stix, baked beans, fruit salad
Can you see a problem here? First, the quality and quantity of the meat and in general, the protein is poor. Second, fats are primarily not the fats you’ll find in whole foods (avacodos, meat, olives, coconuts) but instead the ones high in Omega 6’s and all the crappy oils that hold stuff together. Third and probably worst is the high carb, sugar, salt, and HFCS (sorry, I guess it’s called “Corn Sugar” now, whatever) in about every item on there (maybe with the exception of the steamed veggies or broccoli spears)… and that’s without getting into the issues with wheat. I am re-reading Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution Diet and it goes into scientific detail for the layman the inner workings of insulin, glucose, and cortisol, how they interrelate and why high carb diets are bad. I don’t feel like going all scientific on you right now but I’d recommend you check out that book.
Like I mentioned, our kids eat what we pack them, and while it’s not true “paleo” or “primal” and it’s not as good as Peg or Sarah Fragoso plans (below), it’s better than the crap the school serves. We try and shoot for an 80% “good” ratio for us and the kids. Sometimes we’re much higher and other times a little lower, but generally we’re in the ball park. Here’s what went into the last two lunches for LoudBoy and Birdsnest:
Milk, greek yogurt, blueberries and strawberries, banana, good beef jerkey.
Milk, natural string cheese stick, turkey breast slice wrapped around a pickle, apple slices, a couple pieces of summer sausage.
Looks like we missed out on a veggis in their lunches, not enough fat on the first one and a little dairy-centric but I can live with it and I know they’ll eat it. Nutritionally more dense than the schools without too much partially hydrogenated soybean oils or HFCS.
Our kids at this stage rarely get sick or even colds. Comparatively, not too long ago, we read “The China Study” which recommended a vegetarian, vegan-esque, plant-based diet. In response to that, our family became vegetarians for just over a year, and I remember the kids getting sick or colds pretty frequently. I’ll have to put a post together at some point on our vegetarian experience.
While I think Peg the Primal Parent is really out there on some of her ideas on parenting and nutrition, we can agree on school lunches for children. See her 4-Part post series on her thoughts and some interesting menu ideas:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Primal Kids Menu.
Here’s one more post Is Paleo Safe for Kids and an exerpt:
In terms of nutritional needs, kids are just like small adults, so they should be eating adult foods; not white foods with fake vitamins in them and pasteurized, lifeless cheese. I have to put my two cents in here and say that while this may be hard to implement in your household if you have kids who only want mac & cheese or else, it’s better you do this now while you can sort of control what goes into their bodies. Be strong and be firm with them when you go Paleo. They’ll get used to it and most likely start to like the foods you give them. Plus, your kids’ waistlines and health will thank you for it later.
Kids and Carbs
Now, people do make mistakes when they put their kids on a Paleo diet, especially if those kids are active. Namely, parents put their little skinny kids on the same weight-loss Paleo meme that they’re on. That is, low carb. GIVE YOUR KIDS ENOUGH CARBS! If they’re hungry all the time, not growing properly, fatigued, nauseous, or not able to concentrate, you’re A) probably not feeding them enough food in general and B) not feeding them enough carbs and fat. Meat and veggies are great, but just like an endurance athlete needs more carbs, so do your active, growing kids.
Sweet potatoes, squash, banana tapioca crepes, potatoes (yes, potatoes), and plenty of fruit will be your kids’ friends. How much of all of those things really depends on your kid, but I’d shoot for a couple pieces of fruit a day and a small serving of sweet potatoes or one of the other starchy veggies I mentioned above with at least one meal per day. And don’t skimp on those fatty, grass-fed cuts of meat. Kids need more fat than what comes on boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Give them the pork, the good cuts of beef, and some bacon. Coconut milk, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados will also do the trick. The fat will give them energy.
So there you have it, my first post on healthy eating for kids. Adults are pretty similar, but that post will focus more on the issues we face.